Hi - this is Page 3 of the "A List,"
a super-special section of Read That Again! featuring many of our favorite children's books of the last few years. We've read a ton of books (literally!) and these ones are the best.

This section is organized alphabetically by book title... you can also browse all the books reviewed on the site, listed by author or by title in the main part of the website. The "A List" will be added to along with the rest of Read That Again!, as more new books come our way...

By the way, we're always looking for new stuff to read... If you have recommendations for books you think we'd like, please feel free to write and tell us about your favorite books!

The A-List: A-C | D-G | H-K | L-M | N-R | S-Z ~ New Books ~ Other Reviews

Written by Ann Herbert Scott
Illustrated by Glo Coalson
(North-South Books, 1994)

I love this book, too. But it's my daughter who really got her mind blown by it... When we first started going out in the stroller all the time, she would wave and say "hi" to everyone, and the post office was a frequent destination (so that Daddy could pick up all his mail for the world-famous Slipcue.com website...) Thus, imagine her delight and astonishment when we brought home this charming story of a little girl named Margarita who goes to the post office with her mommy and tries to get the other patrons to say hello to her, only to meet with their indiffernce and lack of awareness. Margarita gets really bummed out that no one notices her (until, of course, somebody does, and she is ecstatic...) and the author's ability to get into the little child's frame of mind is quite lovely... My girl went crazy for this book -- it completely captured her own experience, and she asked for it me to read Hi! to her again and again... -- over a dozen times in a row -- the first time she ever had such a strong reaction to a book. Great story, and the artwork perfectly supports the text. Margarita emerges as one of the most delightful, enthusiastic characters you'll come across inside a picturebook for some time to come. Like many great children's books, this one is, sadly, out of print. It's worth tracking down a copy, though -- you'll be glad you did. (A+)

"Hooray, A Pinata!"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1996)

Another great book -- the first one by Kleven that we read, and still one of our favorites! A young girl named Clara wants to have a pinata for her birthday, and invites her friend Samson along to go to the store and help her pick one out. She picks a small pinata of a dog, but winds up using it as a surrogate pet and becomes sad that it will have to be destroyed at her party. So Samson goes back to the shop and buys her another, larger pinata, thus giving her two gifts (and getting the pinata that he would have chosen instead!) A lovely tale about friendship, this has less of a fantastical quality than Kleven's other books (no one flies anywere, and the character are humans), although the ornate artwork is still packed with detail and vibrant life. San Francisco Bay Area locals will recognize their environs right away, with a compact view of the City and the Mission District, where the pinata comes from. A delightful story that will ring true on many levels. (A+)

"How Kind!"
Written by Mary Murphy
Illustrated by Mary Murphy
(Candlewick, 2002)

One of our earliest and most durable favorites. This barnyard fable tells of how a series of kind acts bring about more generousity, as one animal after another does a favor for a friend. Hen gives Pig an egg, Pig gives Rabbit a carrot, Rabbit gives Cow some flowers, etc. Things come full fircle when the egg finally hatches and the little chick gets brought back to Hen, who proclaims, "How kind!" Issues of maternal abandonment aside, this is a lovely book... The underlying social message is wonderful, the rhythmic, cyclical structure of the writing is good, and the rapid change of characters invites caregivers to try out new voices and characters, and most of all, the simple, colorful, cartoonish artwork is eye-catching and very friendly. This is a perfect early reader for the under-one set. I got so excited by this book that I went on a brief Mary Murphy "kick..." Sad to say, her other books were not quite as great, although they were all still good, in their way. This one's a real winner, though -- top of the pile! (A+)

Written by Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
(Greenwillow, 2000)

A sequel, more or less, to 1994's Mowing. The grass is cut and the clock is ticking for the sun to dry it into hay and for Nora and her family to gather it up and get it into the barn, before the rain falls. Under grey skies, the family works as fast as they can to lay in the year's feed for all the animals, but only barely make it to the barn in time. An unpretentious sense of drama suffuses this simple story, rich with detail and a fascinating presentation of old-fashioned hand-harvesting techniques. Another neat farm book in this intelligent, captivating series. (A)

"I Am A Bunny"
Written by Ole Risom
Illustrated by Richard Scarry
(Golden Books, 1963)

A beautifully illustrated book showing a little bunny named Nicholas going through the seasons of the year -- picking flowers and chasing butterflies in the Spring, blowing dandelion seeds in the Summer, watching leaves fall in the Autumn, etc. The text is about as simple as you can get, but the artwork is extraordinary. Readers who are used to Richard Scarry's simpler, cartoonish work in his own books will be swept away by these gorgeously rich, detailed paintings. There is a sense of expansiveness and magic that's an utter delight. Don't rely on any of the truncated Golden Book anthologies for this story... You'll definitely want the full version; the rectangular board book is quite handsome and user-friendly. Risom also authored I Am A Fox, I Am A Puppy, etc., but most of the other books in the series feature other artists: this is one of Scarry's greatest works. (A)

"I Can't Talk Yet, But When I Do..."
Written by Julie Markes
Illustrated by Laura Rader
(Harper Collins, 2003)

A little, preverbal baby thinks about all the things it would like to say, many of them directed to an older sibling who teaches, plays with and protects her, giving her love even when there are moments of friction. A really lovely story about growth, self-awareness and positive sibling relations. Sweet. Highly recommended... and also a great book for babies who are developing their verbal skills. My girl really loved this one, and asked for it to be read over and over. (A+)

"I'll Teach My Dog 100 Words"
Written by Michael Frith
Illustrated by P. D. Eastman
(Beginner's Books, 1973)

An underappreciated winner from the "fake Dr. Seuss" Beginner's Books series... As an educational tool, this story is quite cleverly crafted: a man promises to teach his dog one hundred words, and as dog plows through an increasingly silly set of tasks, the narrator keeps tab of the number of words old Rover picks up. We learn colors, numbers, and various kooky concepts as the tally mounts. The text is funny, lively and rhymes well, and the story has a nice, zippy ending... This book's a real hoot! (A)

"I Love You, Blue Kangaroo"
Written by Emma Chichester Clark
Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(Random House Kids, 1999)

This is a great book. Blue Kangaroo is a stuffed animal with a mind of its own, and when its little owner, Lily, starts getting a lot of other, bigger, cooler stuffed animals as presents, Blue Kangaroo becomes sad and feels rejected. This is an "issue book," but one that's done with a really light touch, and with a nice window into the interior fantasy life of kids. The end of the book is really touching and positive... Recommended! The various sequels are quite good as well. (A)

"Katherine's Doll"
Written by Elizabeth Winthrop
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
(Dutton, 1983)

A great girly-girl book about two best friends, Katherine and Molly, who get in a huge fight after one of them gets a beautiful new doll that she only sort of wants to share. They have a falling out and stop talking to one another, but the state of war only lasts a little while, since they both wind up missing their friend right away. There are lots of books that cover this topic, but this is one of the best. The text is compelling, as is the richly detailed artwork, while the cause of their fight -- as well as its resolution -- is easily understood and entirely plausible. Recommended! (A)

"K Is For Kitten"
Written by Niki Clark Leopold
Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
(Putnam, 2002)

One of our favorite alphabet books! This is largely because of the lovely artwork by Susan Jeffers (we're big fans) and also because of the strength of the writing, as well as the overall kitty-cattishness of the whole book. K Is For Kitten is also notable for being am alphabet book with a coherent narrative -- an actual beginning, middle and end -- deftly told through the course of its twenty-six character arc. It tells the tale of a little stray cat, Miss Rosie, who is rescued from an alley ("A"), brought home, fed and protected by a little girl and her family. Her main protector turns out to be the family dog, Amos, a gentle old hound who saves Rosie from mischief and mishaps, and also calmly endures the bites and pounces that come with having a little kitten in the house. The ending -- with the three of them, the little girl, the kitten and dog, all curling up to sleep together -- is one of the sweetest scenes in any of the books we've read. Rosie's rambunctiousness and the richly detailed artwork will give you lots to talk about -- in panel after panel, Jeffers catches the true essence of her subjects, and makes you believe in the reality of what you see. Recommended! (A)

"Kiss Good Night"
Written by Amy Hest
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
(Candlewick, 2001)

A delightful book in which we meet little Sam Bear and his mother, who live at the end of idyllic Plum Tree Lane. It's nighttime and they are going through their bedtime ritual, an elaborate process that involves a special kind of tucking in, proper placement of various stuffed animals and lots and lots of kisses. The text has a funny, half-rhymed poetic bounce to it, and the artwork is delightful as well, perfectly capturing the affection and playfulness in this mother-child relationship. Also, since we never see a daddy in any of the Sam Bear books, I guess we can consider them as "single parent" stories as well. Anyway, these are really sweet stories, and have been longtime favorites at our house for a long, long time. Plus, I absolutely adore the artwork -- some of the finest I've seen in any contemporary picturebooks. Highly recommended. (A)

"The Knight Who Took All Day"
Written by James Mayhew
Illustrated by James Mayhew
(Scholastic/Chicken House, 2005)

A gleefully cartoonish book that takes the knight-in-shining-armor paradigm and playfully turns it on its head. Here, the knight in question is a puffed-up, macho blowhard, who longs for the chance to trounce a big, bad dragon so that he can win the heart of the fair princess. When the chance finally arises, he takes so long preening himself getting ready -- he's got to look right before he can go out to best the beast -- that the princess takes matters into her own hands and dons armor herself, and tames the dragon rather that kill it. Afterwards, she ditches the knight and elopes with his mild-mannered squire. This book is a delight on so many levels -- the text is very tongue-in-cheek and sly, and is easily matched by the artwork, which has plenty of amusing details, including the steadfast preparations of the princess, who calmly marshals herself while the knight vainly dithers about in his tower. Plus, it's a great tomboy saga, and it's pro-dragon, too, which is a nice change of pace. This is a fun, funny book... recommended! (A)

"Knuffle Bunny - A Cautionary Tale"
Written by Mo Willems
Illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion, 2004)

We LOVE this book!! This is a wonderful story that explores the difficulties of communication with a pre-verbal child. A little girl named Trixie starts to cry when she loses her stuffed animal and grows frustrated when she can't explain to her father what has happened. Her father, who hadn't noticed that the bunny was missing, tries to calm her down by talking about other things, which frustrates the little girl even more. The psychology of the book is very realistic and simple: this is exactly the kind of thing that happens to small children before they can talk, and the book written as much for the parents as it is for the kids. (My child points and smiles with satisfaction at the panel where the father realizes the mistake he's made, and Trixie has an I-told-you-so look on her face. For my part, I try not to lose things... ever! :-) It's also nice that the book is set in an urban environment (Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY)... A book that shows a walk to the laundromat may be a welcome change of pace for parents who live in cities and wonder when the heck they are ever going to get the chance to see a bunch of barnyard animals... In short, the appeal of this book is in understanding and validating the experience of children at a time in their lives when their voices are hard to hear. Highly recommended. (A++)

The A-List Continues > Page Four

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